Michel Bonne, President of the Brulex Organising Committee, Counsel at Van Bael & Bellis

Have you ever wondered if lawyers in Brussels with a passion for football are able to find time to play the beautiful game? Brussels Legal sat down to hear the thoughts with Michel Bonne, who runs brulex, a 5-a-side football league made up of Brussels law firms. 

BL: What is the general mood at the football games in the brulex league? Do you ever find yourself having to break up fights, or are the games always carried out in a gentlemanly fashion?

MB: Generally speaking, brulex games take place in a competitive but fair spirit. When brulex started out, there was only one division. Now, we have three divisions, which has inevitably increased competition among the teams, especially among the better-ranked ones. Unfortunately, this increased competition has sometimes led to more aggression on the pitch. A couple of years ago, there was a major fight between two teams, which lead us to establish new rules for the leagues with a renewed focus on fair play. We also introduced a fair play trophy, whereby teams allocate points to each other based on the extent to which they played fair. This new approach has, for the most part, allowed tempers to be kept under control, with post-game complaints being issued only very rarely – about five a year out of a total of 168 games. It also allows us to stick to our principal goal without having to get referees involved: bringing lawyers together in an informal and fun environment!

BL: Tell us about a game that stands out in your memory and why.

MB: When I used to work at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, I remember a very dramatic end to one of the seasons. With only one game remaining, Stibbe, a rival firm, were two points ahead of us, so we had to win our last game in order to be crowned champions. We were playing against a poorly ranked team so the odds were stacked in our favour. Despite playing a great game, however, we were unable to take all three points, hitting the post five times and having to settle for a 2-2 draw. To miss out on the championship by just one point was a bitter pill to swallow, but highly memorable nonetheless!

BL: Does overseeing the Brulex league take a lot out of you? How do you balance this responsibility with the sometimes-gruelling work demands of a law firm?

MB: In terms of admin, it is really quite ok. It takes me about a day, at the beginning of each season, to set out the schedule for the upcoming winter league and get everything organised. Christoph Weling, who works at Linklaters, takes care of the cup that we hold each summer. Other than that, I receive an email from the team captains following each game with the final result, allowing me to update the league tables. This hardly takes up much of my time, and actually provides for a nice break from work to discuss football with both the captains and my colleagues.

BL: Do you believe the brulex league brings Brussels' legal community closer together or does it draw them further apart? Have you managed to build relationships with opponent lawyers from other firms?

MB: Personally, I have met a lot of fellow lawyers through brulex, and with many of them I have excellent personal relationships. It even took me from Freshfields to Van Bael & Bellis, since we established our first contacts through brulex! Generally I would say it has brought the footballers among Brussels’ legal community closer together, although in some cases bad on-the-pitch experiences have drawn people apart. That’s just part of the game, I suppose.

BL: To what extent do you think being a good footballer, or a good athlete in general, helps one progress in private practice?

MB: The fact that you play football with your colleagues definitely helps create a good atmosphere. Don´t forget that following the games, we all share a shower, which is certainly not something you would normally do with colleagues! Jokes aside, and from my experience, it has brought my colleagues and me closer together and has a positive influence on our day-to-day work back in the office. It is also a great way to integrate a new joiner, and the better they play, the more we like them!

For information on the latest Brulex results, consult our Brulex page.

BL: Good luck.  Thank you for your time.